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That kept him going for a few more weeks until—everybody put their hands on the table—the Danes banned the Brooklyn Kid. Undaunted, Browne challenged the country's top four international chess masters to a series of matches. They all accepted, says Browne, because they could not resist the old surefire Flea-house come-on: "I kept telling everybody I was the best. They kept saying the kid's got a big mouth. And I'd say, oh yeah, prove it."
Browne won all four matches and flew back to the States in the summer of 1968 to plan a new assault. He recalls, "I finally decided that the bloody quickest way I could get ahead was to go down and win the Australian championship." Which he did, taking advantage of the fact that he enjoyed dual citizenship in the U.S. and Australia until age 21. That victory won him a bid to the Asian Zonals in the summer of 1969 in Manila where, after replenishing side trips to Bangkok, Singapore and all the way back to Copenhagen ("I needed the easy money," he says), Browne tied for first and earned his international master title.
Then 20, Browne was beginning to despair that his quest for grandmaster would be realized "too late in life." Like Fischer, who used his winnings on TV's What's My Line in 1958 to pay the fare to the international match that at 15 made him the youngest grandmaster ever, Browne needed a nice timely act of providence.
He got it at 5:31 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, 1969. That was the moment the phone call from Puerto Rico got through to Browne in Manhattan. It was a friend who told him that they needed someone to fill in for a grandmaster who had dropped out of a major tournament that was opening the next day in San Juan, and if he hurried....
The last flight to San Juan was at 7 p.m. from Kennedy International, which at rush hour was about as accessible as Bangkok. But through a succession of small miracles, including a cabbie who proved to be the A. J. Foyt of the Manhattan fleet, Browne not only made the plane but tied for second in the tournament behind world champion Spassky.
"I had Spassky dead beaten," says Browne, "but he escaped with a draw. Even so, I made him work so hard that he couldn't eat his supper that night." And Browne did not have to eat any more hard-boiled eggs; his brilliant performance in San Juan earned him the grandmaster mantle and, he says, "From then on I was off to all the big tournaments."
Among Browne's many victories since, the sweetest occurred in 1974 when, like the mail boy who returns to buy the company, he triumphed at Wijk ann Zee, the scene of his first snubbing. In fact, his overall performance that year qualified him as one of the world's top 10 players, a distinction that no other U.S. player except Fischer and Robert Byrne has achieved since the International Association of the Chess Press began publishing the list in 1968. And this summer he was in contention until the last round in a tournament in Milan that featured a dozen of the world's top players, including world champion Karpov, with whom he drew. "He is certainly a great player," Browne says, "well prepared, but he invents little during a match. If I'd had the help he did in coming up I'd be better than he is. I mean, the Russians take their chess bloody seriously."
For Browne, however, the most memorable encounter occurred in 1972 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where he lost a tournament and won Racquel. They were married in New York a year later on March 9, Fischer's birthday, and celebrated by flying to Las Vegas where Walter won the National Open. "From here on out," he decreed, "Las Vegas is my tournament." And his kind of town; last year he scouted the casinos without great success, but he vows, "Next time I hit Vegas I'm going to destroy 'em at blackjack. I know the system but I gotta make a lot fast and move out before they bar me. I could go back in a wig but they don't take kindly to that. They break knuckles, you know."
It may be the altitude, but Browne is given to a lot of adventurous talk when he is securely perched in his Berkeley aerie. He and Racquel share their house with her 16-year-old son by a previous marriage, a Hawaiian Siamese cat named Lonnie Huani Browne and a huge blowup of Walter glowering over the fireplace. There is also an equally outsized portrait of Freud in the game room, but it is placed in a dark corner, slightly crumpled, like an inferiority complex. "Shawn, he break my Freud when he ees moving eet," Racquel explains. "Sorry," says Walter, "it was a Freudian slip."
Relaxed, smiling easily away from the board, Walter is a doting host. Racquel a gourmet cook. Whenever he feels the need to escape chess, Browne dials the letters JAG PROW on the telephone. That is Lester Schonbrun's line, and what better way to while away a California afternoon than by matching tiles with the self-described U.S. Scrabble champion? For a slight token wager, of course.